New Internationalist

Dear Mimmy

Issue 350

In a diary she calls ‘Mimmy’ schoolgirl Zlata Filipovic records her departure from besieged and war-torn Sarajevo and her arrival in Paris.

PARIS. There’s electricity, there’s water, there’s gas. There’s, there’s… life, Mimmy. Yes, life; bright lights, traffic, people, food… Don’t think I’ve gone nuts, Mimmy. Hey, listen to me, Paris!? Me, my mum and my dad. At last… The darkness is behind us, now we’re bathed in light lit by good people. Remember that – good people. Bulb by bulb, not candles, but bulb by bulb, and me bathing in the lights of Paris. Yes, Paris. Incredible.

On 6 December, three days after my thirteenth birthday (my second in the war), the publishers told us that on Wednesday 8 December, we were to be ready, that they would be coming for us – we were going to Paris for your promotion, Mimmy.

We had one day to accept that we were leaving Sarajevo, to say our goodbyes to Grandma and Grandpa, the whole family, Mirna, to pack and be ready by 8.00 am when an UNPROFOR personnel carrier would be coming to pick us up.

It’s impossible to explain those mixed feelings of sorrow and joy. Joy at being able to leave the war and sorrow at having to leave EVERYTHING behind. ALL MY LOVED ONES.

Wednesday 8 December, 8.00 am. It was all done. We had cried our eyes out, said our goodbyes. Eight o’clock came and went. No personnel carrier. Why? Who knows? Something went wrong. Again that strange mixed feeling, again that feeling of sunken hopes.

At 10.00 am on 23 December, the personnel carrier actually came. Through the little window of the vehicle I watched the Post Office pass by, the Law Faculty, the Holiday Inn, Marin Dvor, Pofalici, Hrasno, Alipasino polje, Nedazarici. Sarajevo was passing by. We reached the airport safely.

Then the Hercules cargo plane, flying over Bosnia and Herzegovina, leaving it behind. We flew over the Adriatic Sea. Our landing point – Ancona. And…we stepped out of the Hercules and together with our friend Jean-Christophe Rufin, we boarded a small plane – destination PARIS. In the plane we were given Coca-Cola, salmon, eggs, steak, chicken, tomatoes YUMMY. Everything I hadn’t seen for almost two years.

And then… the lights of Paris appeared. There was electricity. Then I caught sight of the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, cars, houses, roads, people… LIFE. At about 3.00 pm we landed at the military airport in Paris. A wonderful reception, warm words of welcome.

Then a SHOWER. WATER. BATH. HOT WATER. COLD WATER. SHAMPOO. SHOWER. Bliss!

That’s how Paris welcomed me. That’s how I came out of the darkness and saw the lights. Are these lights my lights as well? I wonder. When even a glimmer of this light illuminates the darkness of Sarajevo, then it will be my light as well. Until then…???

This extract by Zlata Filipovic is from Zlata’s Diary published by Penguin, 1993.

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